We can’t let the furor over power outages die down without making real change
Brett Perlman: ERCOT needs better visibility and oversight of power generation. February 27, 2021
While much has been written about potential causes of the blackout, I believe we should all take a deep breath and let the facts lead us. More information will come out soon, but I would like to summarize the facts that we know so far.
First, it appears the Electric Reliability Council of Texas underestimated the impact of extreme winter weather conditions. Each winter and summer season, ERCOT runs a report called the Seasonal Assessment of Resource Availability in which it looks at the potential risks of both higher-than-expected electricity demand and extreme generation outages.
It appears that ERCOT’s winter scenarios were too conservative. ERCOT forecast extreme demand of 67,208 megawatts, which was based on the 2011 winter storm adjusted upward for economic growth. This was 16% more than ERCOT’s regular forecast, but by the time the crisis began, Texas had already exceeded that forecast. At 9 p.m. Feb. 14, demand reached 69,222 MW of load. It’s likely demand would have been even higher if ERCOT had not instituted blackouts.
Massive power plant failures also occurred. ERCOT lost about 40% of its generation. At its lowest level, on Feb. 17 at 2 p.m., ERCOT was only able to serve 42,517 MW of load. Around 30,000 MW of generation failed.
So, the causes of the blackout are likely to be myriad and complex. Unfortunately, the issues now affecting the ERCOT market are not new: They are the same ones that the market faced following the 2011 blackout.
Following the 2011 event, I wrote op-ed columns arguing for systemic change to fully address reliability issues. Responsibility was divided among too many organizations, ERCOT relied too much on industry in developing market rules and its board should be independent, like every other system operator. Unfortunately, after the furor died down, no fundamental changes were made.
Here’s hoping that in the postmortem to this crisis these issues are now addressed.
Brett Perlman is chief executive of Center for Houston’s Future and a former Texas Public Utility Commissioner from 1999 to 2003. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.